After a brutal 11 hour drive from SE London to Edinburgh on Thursday night as part of our annual family tour of duty round the Scottish Wineloon clan, we were in need of some consoling. A night out in Edinburgh on Saturday with some old friends, no children and lots of booze was needed.
It started off badly. My sister suggested trying a "secret gin bar" in the west end for an overpriced, preprandial gin & tonic. This sounds cool and trendy until you get there and realise its just that sleazy pick-up club you used to go to 20 years ago with a make over. I then, inexplicably, fell into that classic trap for young players (or in my case old, fat, unfit players) and instead of marching past the bouncer confidently into the bar, I asked him "is this the secret gin bar?". Mrs Wineloon looked at me with a withering look, muttered "you twat" under her breath while the bouncer smiled (more of a smirk actually) and kindly told me to try somewhere else. Yes, its official, I am not cool enough for secret gin bars anymore.
That public humiliation actually turned out to be an inspired move on my part. We had walked past a very enticing little wine bar on the way to the gin bar, so we quickly retreated there. Instead of another turn down from a smug bouncer, we received the warm welcome of Loic, the bar manager of L'escargot Blanc. A perfect little wine bar with a long and interesting list of wines by the glass, specialising in natural wines. I for one left myself in Loic's expert hands, while the rest of the party tucked into the house champagne.
We did have a dinner reservation across town but it was chucking it down outside, so when Loic asked if we would like to see the menu for the restaurant upstairs we decided to stay put. And we were glad we did. We had a great meal of hearty french bistro classics, including their excellent snails, mussels cooked in local Innis & Gunn beer, seabass and prawn stew and a rich Wangus (mixed breed Wagyu/Aberdeen Angus) beef bourguignon. All washed down with a great selection of wines selected by Loic.
Here are the wines I drank with my thoughts on them;
Partida Creus, Vinel-lo, 2014 - A natural wine, and looks it. Light red and cloudy. Bit of a damp nose, flavours of raspberry and apple, with a refreshingly sour finish. I enjoyed this served chilled and it made a good aperitif. However, as with many natural wines, it did remind me a little bit of flat cider. I get this a lot with natural wines like this. I like them when I have a glass but am never sure how much more I could drink. Not everyone's bag, but very interesting nonetheless.
Agnes & Reve Mosse, Anjou Blanc, 2013 - wine of the night without question. This is a seriously good wine. I am now trying to source some for home consumption. An orange wine (white wine made like a red, with lots of skin contact), it has aromas of sweet apricots, leading to a rich and satisfying mouthful of apple and caramel. Fine acidity on the finish balances it out and the flavours linger for ages. You can't rely on me to get you into a secret gin bar, but trust me, you need to try this wine.
Chateau Haute Cariziere, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, 2014 - regular readers (hi mum!) will know I am a big fan of the Loire 2014 vintage so when I see it on a winelist and Mrs Wineloon has ordered mussels, I am obviously going to order the 2014 Muscadet. It worked. This had a bit of a floral nose, followed by lime and mineral freshness and a long dry finish. As you drink more of it the minerality of the wine gets more and more obvious and the floral element retreats, in a good way. The sort of wine you'd probably pay about €6 for in France as its such an unfashionable wine, ridiculously good value for the complexity you get. You'd probably get this for under a tenner in the UK.
La Gloire de mon Pere, Chateau Tour des Gendres, Bergerac, 2011 - another natural wine chosen by Loic - a tip, if you eat in the restaurant, its a different, less interesting list than in the bar, but Loic will ship something funky from downstairs if you ask. I did and he did. Had this cracker with my Wangus beef stew. Black cherry nose, followed by sweet back fruit, balanced by quite tart acidity on the finish. Also went very well with the excellent selection of cheeses we finished on.
All in all, after a false start with the gin bar, this ended up being a great night, thanks to Loic, his team and their cellar. I would heartily recommend L'esgargots Blanc if you are in Edinburgh, especially the wine bar. As well as the great selection of wines and passionate, knowledgeable staff the plates of cheese and charcuterie looked well worthy of a return visit. Next time I will stay downstairs, graze on meat and cheese and attempt as many of the interestingby the glass wines as possible, before the cheese sweats kick in.